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USS RALL DE 304 Sinks Kaiten
by
Richard W. (Dick) Graves, a deck officer aboard the USS Rall
and author of the book, “Men of Poseidon,” a story of life at sea during WWII.
 

In mid-November, 1944, the USS Rall (DE304) had just returned to Ulithi Atoll after escorting the fleet oiler group in the area west the Philippines. It was customary for a group of oilers to follow the main fleet for periodic refueling at sea. Normally, when the oilers had emptied their tanks, a replacement group would move up. This time, the fleet and oilers returned together to Ulithi. The harbor anchorage was filled with those beautiful carriers and battlewagons. It was a magnificent sight to behold. I could not help but think of those desperate days after the battle of Guadalcanal when neither of our two remaining carriers, the Enterprise and the Saratoga, were fit for duty and the British supported us by sending one of their carriers from Europe.

Japanese scout planes regularly observed Ulithi and were also aware that the harbor was filled with potential targets. They planned an assault with a new secret weapon. These weapons were to be delivered by submarines stationed at their base in the nearby Palau Islands. Our Naval Intelligence had information that some type of attack was brewing. They did not have details, but an alert had been issued.

The approach to Ulithi harbor was guarded by anti-submarine nets for a stretch of four miles between Feitabul and Pau Islands. In addition, two Destroyer Escorts constantly patrolled the 7000 yards surrounding the entrance. After returning from the recent convoy duty we were almost immediately assigned to patrolling the harbor entrance. We found this extremely boring despite of having been given the attack alert. On November 19th, we were finally relieved of patrol duty and given 48-hour availability in order to perform routine repairs on our main engines. After over three weeks of duty at sea, we were looking forward to a day or two of relaxed work schedules. We could sleep in until 0630 and perhaps some watch sections could go for recreation on Mog Mog Island, like swimming and a beer party.

At dawn of November 20th, we were rudely awakened by the strident sound of the General Alarm when at 0550 a lookout observed a ship bursting into flame. It was the USS Mississinewa, AO 59. She had been one of the oilers in our recent convoy. All anti-submarine vessels were given orders to commence patrolling the harbor. Two of our four main engines were down for repairs and our top speed was limited to 15 knots. My first thought as I ran to my battle station was that is was an air raid alert. At night, a Jap bomber would drop an occasional bomb just to give us a wake-up call. This time, Ulithi was under a coordinated attack by what was believed to be midget submarines. One apparent midget submarine had been sunk outside the harbor and another had run afoul of the net and a reef (later recovered for examination by Naval Intelligence).  Marine aircraft had destroyed another. At the time we were not aware of these details.

At 0645, the USS Biloxi (CL80), a Light Cruiser reported to us by blinker light that there was a swirl in the water near us.  They could not depress their main guns enough to open fire. They did get off a few rounds of 40 mm to no effect.

The USS Rall immediately made visual contact with an underwater object. Our ship was traveling at five knots and the contact was nearly along side. The Captain asked the Gunnery Officer, “Can I drop a charge at a shallow setting without damaging the ship?” The Gunnery Officer said, “No.” The Captain gave the order, “Roll one.” His thinking was, that it is better to damage our ship then to allow the enemy sub time to take shot at one of the nearby carriers.

I was in charge of a damage control party stationed in the forward crews quarters. We had no idea of what was going; then came an ear splitting kerblam!! I thought that we had been hit and called the bridge for a damage report. The bridge talker advised me of the sub contact and that we had dropped a depth charge. In the meantime, the skipper demonstrated how a Destroyer Escort could “turn on a dime.” He had ordered all ahead full on the port engine and all back full on the starboard.

We spun around on a reverse course and were in perfect position to ram or go directly over the target. Since we did not ram, it must have been at a depth of about 15 feet. We passed over it and dropped two charges that split the sub wide open. The time was 0652. Seven minutes had elapsed from sighting to destruction of the submarine.

Lookouts reported seeing one or two bodies and other debris in the water. The Biloxi and our sister ship, the USS Halloran (DE 305), launched their whaleboats in an attempt to recover the bodies. The Biloxi crew picked up debris with Japanese writing on it but no bodies were recovered.

We had sunk the last of the Japanese attacking subs. Later it was found that the Japanese were using a new weapon, the Kaiten, a type of suicide boat with a one-man crew. The Kaiten did not fire torpedoes; it was a torpedo, not a midget submarine as we had presumed at the time. It carried a 3000-pound warhead and was a manned suicide vessel designed to ram a target. The strategy was to cruise at possibly ten knots, select a target and then accelerate to 30 knots to ram. It could easily have outrun us at 30 knots. Our first charge probably prevented the Kaiten from selecting its target and fortunately there was no high speed run. I hate to think what would have happened if our depth charges had exploded that 3000 pound warhead. We very likely would have shared the fate of the USS Mississenewa. Its destruction was devastating and she sunk with a loss of 50 men.

As a point of interest, we later found that the depth charge explosion had dislodged the “sacrificial zincs” that protect our hull from electrolysis damage. After about two months is was discovered that electrolysis had heavily damaged our rudders. We went into dry dock for repairs.

After the war it was determined from Japanese records that at least four submarines, each carrying two Kaitens, left Palau.  One sub with its Kaitens was detected and sunk outside Ulithi Harbor. The other three subs managed to launch only five of their six Kaiten because one of them was stuck in the gear attaching it to the mother sub. Three were destroyed outside the harbor entrance and only the two had actually entered the anchorage.
 

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